Alleged Tech Support Scammers Agree to Settle FTC Charges
The FTC has announced that the operators of an alleged computer tech support scam have been permanently banned from the tech support business as part of a settlement to resolve charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the State of Ohio that the defendants tricked consumers into believing their computers were infected with viruses and malware, and then charged them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs.
As set forth in the complaint filed last year by the FTC, the defendants allegedly contacted consumers through advertisements that resembled pop-up security alerts from well- known technology companies. These ads appeared on consumers’ computer screens when they were browsing the Internet.
The complaint alleged that the ads falsely warned consumers that their computers were infected with viruses or had been hacked or otherwise compromised, and urged them to immediately call a toll-free number for assistance.
The complaint further alleges that once consumers called the toll-free number listed on the ads, they were connected to a call center and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with technology companies such as Microsoft or Apple. The FTC asserts that after gaining access to consumers’ computers, the telemarketers purported to run a series of “diagnostic tests” to show that their computers had major problems requiring immediate repair. The telemarketers then persuaded consumers to buy a one-time “fix” or long-term service plans that cost hundreds of dollars.
The defendants — Repair All PC LLC, Pro PC Repair LLC, I Fix PC LLC, WebTech World LLC, Online Assist LLC, Datadeck LLC, and I Fix PC dbaTechers247, as well as individual defendants Jessica Marie Serrano, Dishant Khanna, Mohit Malik, Romil Bhatia, Lalit Chadha, and Roopkala Chadha — were charged as part of a major international crack down on tech support scams called Operation Tech Trap announced in May 2017.
“Tech support scams prey on consumers’ legitimate concerns about malware, viruses and other cyber threats,” said the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is proud to work with federal, state and international partners to take down these scams, and help consumers learn how they can safeguard their computers against real cybersecurity threats.”
Most of the scammers targeted in Operation Tech Trap followed the same pattern of alleged misconduct, causing consumers’ computers to display advertisements designed to resemble pop-up security alerts from Microsoft, Apple or other technology companies. Some of the pop-up ads even included a countdown clock, allegedly representing the time remaining before the computer hard drive would be deleted.
As part of the settlements, all the defendants are barred from offering tech support products and services, from engaging in deceptive telemarketing practices, misrepresenting their affiliation with another company, and collecting or attempting to collect payment for tech support products or services.
The settlements also impose a $12.4 million judgment, which will be suspended upon payment by the defendants of a total of $122,376.39. A separate settlement approved by the FTC and entered by the court in November with the Ohio-based defendants — Repair All PC LLC, Pro PC Repair LLC, I Fix PC LLC, Serrano and Khanna – imposes a $12.4 million judgment, which will be suspended upon payment of $27,000.
In December, the court entered a default judgment order imposing similar conduct restrictions and a $12.4 million monetary judgment against I Fix PC dba Techers247.
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Richard B. Newman is an FTC defense attorney and regulatory defense counselor at Hinch Newman LLP focusing on advertising and digital media matters. His practice includes conducting legal compliance reviews of advertising campaigns, representing clients in investigations and enforcement actions brought by the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General, commercial litigation, advising clients on promotional marketing programs, and negotiating and drafting legal agreements.
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